Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, April 23, 2018

"Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper I have written for a forthcoming issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter which is now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

States reforming marijuana laws should be particularly concerned with remedying the past inequities and burdens of mass criminalization.  State marijuana reforms should not only offer robust retroactive ameliorative relief opportunities for prior marijuana offenses, but also dedicate resources generated by marijuana reform to create and fund new institutions to assess and serve the needs of a broad array of offenders looking to remedy the collateral consequences of prior involvement in the criminal justice system.  So far, California stands out among reform states for coupling repeal of marijuana prohibition with robust efforts to enable and ensure the erasure of past marijuana convictions.  In addition to encouraging marijuana reform states to follow California’s lead in enacting broad ameliorative legislation, this essay urges policy makers and reform advocates to see the value of linking and leveraging the commitments and spirit of modern marijuana reform and expungement movements.

Part II begins with a brief review of the history of marijuana prohibition giving particular attention to social and racial dynamics integral to prohibition, its enforcement and now its reform.  Part III turns to recent reform activities focused on mitigating the punitive collateral consequences of a criminal conviction with a focus on the (mostly limited) efforts of marijuana reform states to foster the erasure of marijuana convictions.  Part IV sketches a novel proposal for connecting modern marijuana reform and expungement movements.   This part suggest a new criminal justice institution, a Commission on Justice Restoration, to be funded by the taxes, fees and other revenues generated by marijuana reforms and to be tasked with proactively working on policies and practices designed to minimize and ameliorate undue collateral consequences for people with criminal convictions.

Cross-posted at Sentencing Law & Policy

April 23, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 20, 2018

"Is It Too Late to Stop the Rise of Marijuana, Inc.?"

Because of the date on the calendar, there is today waaaaaay too much mainstream press coverage of marijuana issues for me to cover in this space.  But I cannot ignore it all, and the headline of this post is the headline of this new Atlantic piece by Reihan Salam that seemed worth spotlighting. Here is how it starts and its core proposal:

The marijuana wars are entering a new phase.  The first phase, over whether or not to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, is over.  The partisans of legalization have won the battle for public opinion.  Soon, I suspect, marijuana legalization will be entrenched in federal law.  At this point, to fight against legalization is to fight against the inevitable.  The only question now is what form America’s legal marijuana markets will take.  Will they be dominated by for-profit business enterprises with a vested interest in promoting binge consumption?  Or will they be designed to minimize the very real harms caused by cannabis dependence, even if that means minting fewer marijuana millionaires?  I fear that the burgeoning cannabis industry will win out—but their victory is not yet assured....

The fundamental challenge, as [Jonathan] Caulkins argues, is that cannabis is a dependence-inducing intoxicant, and a cheap one at that.  In Washington state, a marijuana-legalization pioneer, he observes that the cost per hour of cannabis intoxication “has fallen below $1, cheaper than beer or going to the movies.”  This is despite the fact that the state’s marijuana growers and distributors operate in a grey zone — legal at the state level, but not legal at the federal level — which leaves them ineligible for the federal tax deductions to which all more straightforwardly legal businesses are entitled.

If marijuana were largely consumed by adults who partake rarely and responsibly, this would not be much of a concern.  According to Caulkins, though, only about one in three cannabis users fall into this fortunate category, and they account for no more than 2 percent of total consumption.  Meanwhile, daily and near-daily users account for 80 percent of total consumption, and a far larger share of the profits of your friendly neighborhood marijuana business.  Yes, there are cancer patients who use regularly marijuana to ease their pain, and there are traumatized veterans who do much the same.  I am happy to concede that cannabis abuse is preferable to opioid abuse.  But let’s not kid ourselves: Marijuana, Inc., thrives by catering to binge users, many of whom explicitly state that their dependence is getting in the way of their lives.  By the time the cost of an hour of cannabis intoxication falls below $1 nationwide, the picture will start to change: The number of people who will turn to marijuana as a form of self-medication, or as a form of escape, will drastically increase.  And most of them will be poor and vulnerable people, not the affluent bohemians so affectionately portrayed on HBO dramedies.

In a 2014 essay for Washington Monthly, Mark A.R. Kleiman, who along with Caulkins is one of the country’s leading experts on drug policy, anticipated the outsized role the marijuana industry would play in debates to come: “As more and more states begin to legalize marijuana over the next few years, the cannabis industry will begin to get richer—and that means it will start to wield considerably more political power, not only over the states but over national policy, too.” As a result, he warned, “we could get locked into a bad system in which the primary downside of legalizing pot — increased drug abuse, especially by minors — will be greater than it needs to be, and the benefits, including tax revenues, smaller than they could be.”

Is it possible to legalize marijuana without drastically increasing the number of Americans who find themselves dependent on it?  I certainly hope so. In my ideal world, Congess would establish a federal monopoly on the sale and distribution of narcotics, including but not limited to cannabis, with an eye towards minimizing the size of the black market and avoiding the aggressive marketing and lobbying that would inevitably accompany the emergence of a large for-profit industry.  But I recognize that this is, for now, a pipe dream.

April 20, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hoping education and learning might be the focal point of 4/20 activities

I tend not to be a big fan of the unofficial marijuana holiday known as 4/20, but this new CNN article suggested to me the title of this post.  The CNN piece is headlined "Universities meet growing demand with Weed 101," and I am lucky that it mentions the course I teach at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. The article has me thinking that everyone should try to learn something new about marijuana and its impacts today. And here are snippets from the article about some teaching efforts in this space:

The facts about marijuana are still at the center of the debate, because while states are more permissive, federal law still puts marijuana in the same category as heroin: a Schedule I drug with "no currently accepted medical use," at least in the eyes of the federal government. That leaves researchers and universities offering classes in uncharted waters.

Despite the limits, a handful of determined professors have stepped up, without textbooks or well-trod academic territory, and created courses to try to ensure that the next generation is prepared to match the public's interest. There seems to be only one "weed major," the medicinal plant chemistry program at Northern Michigan University, but a growing number of weed-themed classes are being offered on campuses across the country in law, business, medicine and general science.

In 2013, the Washington Attorney General's Office provided Beatriz Carlini, a research scientist at the university's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, with funds to develop training modules for health professionals who can get continuing education credit. They learn about how cannabis works and about its best uses; a second module teaches best clinical practices.

Marijuana is legal in its recreational and medicinal forms in Washington, and with more legal access comes a public desire for more education. But unless your doctor is in his or her late 90s and can remember before 1942, when it was legal to prescribe cannabis, more than likely they learned nothing about its benefits in medical school. "Hopefully, we can help patients make good decisions," Carlini said. "People won't wait for these things to resolve federally."

Yu-Fung Lin teaches the physiology of cannabis at the UC Davis School of Medicine. Physiology is a branch of biology that looks at the functions of living organisms and their parts. The elective focuses on how cannabis and cannabinoids impact the body. It also looks at physiological impact, therapeutic values and history. It's the first class of its kind in the University of California system.

Lin, an associate professor who usually teaches medical students, didn't know what to expect from her 55 undergraduates. "I've been quite impressed by their commitment," she said. She hopes her class will inspire future research. "Just knowing what we know, and the limitations of what we know, should inspire students, and they in turn could do research that would be really helpful in this field."

The Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont can't create classes fast enough. Its on-campus medical cannabis class was so popular, it had to relocate twice, settling into the largest available lecture hall according to the University. Its online continuing medical education program and the cannabis science and medicine professional certificate program have wait lists. Enrollees have come from as far away as Thailand. It has created webinars and a cannabis speaker series, and even the school's farm extension provides original plant research about hemp.

Dr. Kalev Freeman, an emergency room physician, and Monique McHenry, a botanist, helped create these courses to address several needs. Freeman said he's seen too many people taken off ambulances after overdosing on opioids, and he hopes to offer information about a "safer alternative to the public." McHenry wanted to find a topic attractive to "young minds to get them interested in science."

Their classes focus on basic science, the drug's physiology, molecular biology and chemistry. The professional training also drills down on practical issues like effective dosing, delivery methods and drug interactions. "The more we can do to focus on getting evidence-based facts out to more medical professionals and the public, the more we will have a real success,"

[Cat] Packer, the Los Angeles marijuana czar, would agree. "We're in a real moment of transition," she said. "These conversations about marijuana are incredibly complex. I found I can't have a conversation about the law without talking about health and social justice issues and enforcement issues." It sounds like the perfect material for more college.

April 20, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Senate Minority Leader to introduce bill to deschedule marijuana

95ff435c240b91016a0f6a70670077ffVice News has this notable new story under the headline "Sen. Chuck Schumer to introduce bill to 'decriminalize' marijuana." Here are the details:

In an exclusive interview with VICE News, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) confirmed he is putting his name on legislation that he said is aimed at “decriminalizing” marijuana at the federal level.

For Schumer, this is a shift. While he has backed medical marijuana and the rights of states to experiment with legal sales of pot, what he is proposing is a seismic shift in federal drug policy . “Ultimately, it’s the right thing to do. Freedom. If smoking marijuana doesn’t hurt anybody else, why shouldn’t we allow people to do it and not make it criminal?” Schumer said....

The legislation, which Schumer’s office expects will be released within the next week, has six main points. First, it would remove marijuana from Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of controlled substances, which would end federal prohibition and leave it up to states to decide how to regulate the drug. Schumer stopped short of calling it legalization, but de-scheduling would essentially make marijuana legal at the federal level.

His bill would also would create some funding for minority and women-owned marijuana businesses, provide money for research into overall effects of marijuana and it’s specific effect on driving impairment.  And lastly, it would “maintain federal authority to regulate marijuana advertising in the same way it does alcohol and tobacco,” which Schumer said is to make sure marijuana businesses aren’t targeting children with their ads.

Schumer went further saying that he would support legalization in his home state of New York as well as any other state that wants to move in that direction.  “My personal view is legalization is just fine,” he said. “The best thing to do is let each state decide on its own.”

While this looks like an obvious election year-play, Schumer claimed it wasn’t about he looming 2018 or 2020 elections.  “I’m doing it because I think it’s the right thing to do.  I’ve seen too many people’s lives ruined by the criminalization,” he said.  “If we benefit, so be it.  But that’s not my motivation.”

When asked if he had ever smoked weed before, Schumer said no, but when pressed on whether he might be willing to try it he said, “Maybe, I’m a little old, but who knows?”

April 19, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

"Legalizing Marijuana: A View from Among the Weeds"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Michael Vitiello and Rosemary Deck just published in the UC Hastings Law Journal. Here is its abstract:

The United States is on a fast-track to a new era in marijuana law.  The prospect of a federal pathway to legalization opens a Pandora’s Box of issues for states like California. This Article focuses on Humboldt County in the Emerald Triangle, California’s prime marijuana growing area, and examines how the region might be impacted by state legalization.  After a brief look into the development of the marijuana market in Humboldt County, this Article identifies some of the costs that have come with leaving the county outside the legal fold, including a failure to address poor working conditions for seasonal trimmers and an epidemic of sexual harassment that has only recently come to light.

The Article then explores some of the obstacles to bringing the county into the legal economy.  Depending on how policymakers and marijuana producers respond to these issues, Humboldt County may become a boom-or-bust economy.  The Article then examines some of the benefits of bringing producers into the legal economy, including improved working conditions for the scores of individuals employed in the industry.  Failing to bring the county into compliance with county and state cannabis regulations also threatens the goals of marijuana reformers.  The Article concludes with thoughts about how Humboldt County might fare in the new world of legal pot.  Just as in the wine industry, the region’s best hope may lie in the move towards marijuana appellations, which will require entry into the legal market.

April 10, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 26, 2018

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announces plans for new hemp bill to remove plant from CSA

Pjimage-34As reported in this new AP article, the "U.S. Senate’s top leader said Monday he wants to bring hemp production back into the mainstream by removing it from the controlled substances list that now associates it with its cousin — marijuana." Here is more:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told hemp advocates in his home state of Kentucky that he will introduce legislation to legalize the crop as an agricultural commodity. The versatile crop has been grown on an experimental basis in a number of states in recent years. “It’s now time to take the final step and make this a legal crop,” McConnell said.

Kentucky has been at the forefront of hemp’s comeback. Kentucky agriculture officials recently approved more than 12,000 acres (4,856 hectares) to be grown in the state this year, and 57 Kentucky processors are helping turn the raw product into a multitude of products.

Growing hemp without a federal permit has long been banned due to its classification as a controlled substance related to marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are the same species, but hemp has a negligible amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

Hemp got a limited reprieve with the 2014 federal Farm Bill, which allows state agriculture departments to designate hemp projects for research and development. So far, 34 states have authorized hemp research, while actual production occurred in 19 states last year, said Eric Steenstra, president of the advocacy group Vote Hemp. Hemp production totaled 25,541 acres (10,336 hectares) in 2017, more than double the 2016 output, he said.

The crop, which once thrived in Kentucky, was historically used for rope but has many other uses, including clothing and mulch from the fiber, hemp milk and cooking oil from the seeds, and soap and lotions. Other uses include building materials, animal bedding and biofuels.

Hemp advocates fighting for years to restore the crop’s legitimacy hailed McConnell’s decision to put his political influence behind the effort to make it a legal crop again. “This is a huge development for the hemp industry,” Steenstra said. “Sen. McConnell’s support is critical to helping us move hemp from research and pilot programs to full commercial production.”

Brian Furnish, an eighth-generation tobacco farmer in Kentucky, has started making the switch to hemp production. His family will grow about 300 acres (120 hectares) of hemp this year in Harrison County. He’s also part owner of a company that turns hemp into food, fiber and dietary supplements. Furnish said hemp has the potential to rival or surpass what tobacco production once meant to Kentucky. “All we’ve got to do is the government get out of the way and let us grow,” he told reporters.

McConnell acknowledged there was “some queasiness” about hemp in 2014 when federal lawmakers cleared the way for states to regulate it for research and pilot programs. There’s much broader understanding now that hemp is a “totally different” plant than its illicit cousin, he said. “I think we’ve worked our way through the education process of making sure everybody understands this is really a different plant,” the Republican leader said.

McConnell said he plans to have those discussions with Attorney General Jeff Sessions to emphasize the differences between the plants. The Trump administration has taken a tougher stance on marijuana. The Department of Justice’s press office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

McConnell said his bill will attract a bipartisan group of co-sponsors. He said the measure would allow states to have primary regulatory oversight of hemp production if they submit plans to federal agriculture officials outlining how they would monitor production. “We’re going to give it everything we’ve got to pull it off,” he said.

In Kentucky, current or ex-tobacco farmers could easily make the conversion to hemp production, Furnish said. Equipment and barns used for tobacco can be used to produce hemp, he said. Tobacco production dropped sharply in Kentucky amid declining smoking rates.

March 26, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, March 16, 2018

"Evaluating ballot initiative support for legalised marijuana: The case of Washington"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new piece authored by Loren Collingwood, Ben Gonzalez O’Brien and Sarah Dreier published int The International Journal of Drug Policy. Here is the abstract:

Background

In 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first U.S. states to legalise recreational marijuana. By 2016, eight states and the District of Columbia had legalised recreational marijuana, with more expected to consider it in 2018. Despite this trend, little academic research explains what drives ballot-initiative vote choice on marijuana legalisation.

Methods

This paper uses a pre-election random sample voter survey to examine the individual characteristics that correlated with Washington voters’ support for legal recreational marijuana.

Results

We find that voting on marijuana ballot initiatives largely reflects public opinion about marijuana and is particularly shaped voters’ political ideology, party affiliation, religious affiliation and practice, and education. Notably, we find that those reporting experiences (i.e., someone they know) with the criminal justice system are more supportive of legalisation than those who do not.

Conclusion

We conclude that marijuana legalisation voting behavior generally aligns with public opinion on the issue. However, one key aspect of Washington’s legalisation campaign–the criminal injustices of marijuana illegality–helped shape Washington state voting behavior. Further research is needed to examine if, when, and in what contexts criminal justice campaign themes are likely to strengthen or undermine future states’ marijuana legalisation efforts.

March 16, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Detailing how racial justice concerns are driving marijuana reform debate in New Jersey

732521_1One of many great lines in the great musical Hamilton is "Everything is legal in New Jersey."   But that is not quite right with respect to marijuana yet, though the recent election of a Governor who ran advocating for marijuana reform led to many reform advocates thinking the Garden State could become the next big legalization state.  But, as is often the case, legislative reform is full of complications, and this New York Times article highlights how completing views on racial justice is shaping the debate in New Jersey.  The piece is headlined "Racial Justice Drives Fight for, and Against, Legal Pot in New Jersey," and here are excerpts:

During his campaign for governor of New Jersey, Philip D. Murphy, a Democrat, pledged to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, telling Democrats at a party conference last year in Atlantic City that creating a new tax revenue was not what was motivating him.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Hey, are you sure you can generate $300 million from the legalization of marijuana?” Mr. Murphy said, citing a figure that his campaign had trumpeted. “I say, ‘You know what, I’m not sure, but that’s not the question. We’re not doing it for the dollars. We’re doing it for social justice.’”

Mr. Murphy argues that the disproportionate number of African-Americans who are jailed on marijuana charges is a main reason to legalize the drug, and he has the support of civil rights groups, cannabis business lobbyists, lawyers, doctors who prescribe medical marijuana and out-of-state cannabis growers.

But now that Mr. Murphy occupies the governor’s office, a major legislative obstacle is emerging: Ronald L. Rice, the state’s longest-serving black senator and the leader of its Black Caucus. “It’s always been said the issue is not money, the issue is social justice,” said Mr. Rice, a Democrat and a former Newark police officer. “But, it’s being sold on the backs of black folk and brown people. It’s clear there is big, big money pushing special interests to sell this to our communities.”

Medical marijuana became legal in New Jersey under former Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, but his successor, Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, rejected proposals to make recreational cannabis use legal.

The growing and selling of marijuana has already generated billions of dollars in the nine states where it is legal — but it is an industry that is overwhelmingly white. Mr. Rice fears the consequences would be dire in cities like Newark, which is already wrestling with a variety of problems, including widespread heroin addiction and a foreclosure crisis. Cannabis stores, he believes, would proliferate in black communities, much like liquor stores, and would produce a new generation of drug abusers....

His position on cannabis legalization not only puts him at odds with the governor and members of his party, but also with many African-Americans.

In New Jersey, African-Americans are three times more likely to be charged with marijuana possession than whites, even though both populations use the drug at similar rates. That has galvanized civil rights groups like the N.A.A.C.P. and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey to support legalization. “All the collateral consequences that come with an arrest — jail time, losing your job, losing your housing — are disproportionately falling on communities of color,” said Dianna Houenou, a lawyer with the A.C.L.U. of New Jersey. “Through legalization we can begin to address the harms that have been inflicted.”

A statewide coalition of black pastors, the N.A.A.C.P. and the New Jersey chapter of the Drug Policy Alliance is pushing for legalization as a social justice issue, but only if it is linked to some type of compensation for the harm they say was done to black and brown families whose sons were incarcerated. The pastors said they wanted to make sure members of their communities were able to participate in the billion-dollar cannabis industry as growers and sellers, not just workers. They are frustrated that the wealth being generated in the other states where marijuana is legal is not reaching people of color.

Researchers at Marijuana Business Daily, an industry news site based in Denver, found that 81 percent of cannabis business owners were white, while less than 4 percent were black....

At a marijuana legalization forum held recently at Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, the Rev. Charles Boyer of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Woodbury said the worst thing that could happen was for communities most harmed by the prohibition to not have a say about legalization. “Do we want to be the ones responsible for playing a part in a system that will make tons of young white millionaires after years of making hundreds of thousands of poor black felons?” Pastor Boyer said.

The Drug Policy Alliance is lobbying for a bill that includes the automatic and retroactive expungement of criminal records for possession, making permits for cannabis shops affordable so that the market is accessible to lower-income entrepreneurs, and a commitment that a portion of the revenue from marijuana sales be used to provide education and job training for people of color. Some social justice activists are also calling for allowing people to grow their own cannabis plants.

State Senator Nicholas Scutari, a Democrat from Linden, is the author of a bill that would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for anyone over 21 and would establish a state Division of Marijuana Enforcement. But it does not include any language discussing compensation. Mr. Scutari agrees that arrests for marijuana possession are disproportionately higher for blacks and Latinos and says his bill addresses the issue of social justice. “The individuals that are previously convicted of marijuana possession will no longer be subject to prosecution,” Mr. Scutari said....

For his part, Mr. Rice has proposed his own marijuana bill that would decriminalize the possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana, and make carrying more a disorderly persons charge that would impose only a fine. It would also expunge criminal records and release incarcerated people serving sentences for possessing small amounts of marijuana. But Mr. Scutari said that decriminalization would simply create an open-air drug market that would allow drug dealers to get richer without creating any kind of regulatory system to control how marijuana is sold.

Ultimately, any effort to promote civil rights could depend on what kind of bill Mr. Murphy is willing to sign. In a statement, Daniel Bryan, a spokesman for the governor, said that Mr. Murphy was committed to “the goal of building a stronger and fairer New Jersey, and supports the legalization of marijuana to advance the cause of social justice and combat the racial disparities in our criminal justice system.”

March 13, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Examining the persistently significant number of marijuana arrest in New York City

Marijuanaarrestsmayors2017The  Leafly folks are doing a three-part series on cannabis in New York City, and this first part looks at arrests under the headline "Racial Disparities in NYC Cannabis Arrests Are Getting Worse." (The discussion in the piece builds off this Politico article last month headlined "Racial disparities persist in New York City marijuana arrests.)  I recommend both pieces in full, and here are portions of the Leafly piece:

Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, cannabis arrests in New York City are significantly down relative to cannabis arrests during the terms of his precedessors, Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani. But they’re still an order of magnitude higher than cannabis arrests during the 1980s and early 1990s — and the racial disparities in those arrest figures aren’t getting any better. In fact, the disparities in white, black, and hispanic cannabis arrests were worse in 2017 than they were in the previous year.

Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, 85% of the people arrested for cannabis offenses were people of color. Under Michael Bloomberg, that figure was 84%. How can the rest of the country continue to make progress — decriminalizing in big cities, legalizing in more and more states — while New York City actually goes backwards?

That’s what members of New York’s City Council wanted to know last week. In a joint meeting of the Council’s Committee on Public Safety and Committee on the Justice System, councilmembers questioned leaders of the New York Police Department about racial disparities in the enforcement of the city’s cannabis laws. It was not a congenial affair. Councilmembers repeatedly took the NYPD to task for withholding critically important arrest data, and for the glaring racial disparities in the little data that was offered up for public scrutiny.

Councilmember Donovan Richards, head of the public safety committee, started off the session by airing data on marijuana arrests, per New York City mayor, during their first three years in office:

Mayor Koch – 6,000 arrests, with an average of 2,000 per year

Mayor Dinkins – 3,000 arrests, with an average of 1,000 per year

Mayor Gulliani 18,000 arrests, with an average of 6,000 per year

Mayor Bloomberg 112,000 arrests with an average of 37,000 per year

Mayor Di Blasio 61,000 arrests, with an average of 20,000 per year...

Marijuanaarrestsrace2017According to a survey of city residents, in the past year, 33% of whites, 32% percent of blacks and 27% of Latinos in New York City have acknowledged consuming marijuana.

Noting those figures, Councilman Richards, who is black, asked: “Are blacks the only ones using marijuana in New York City? It’s pretty even across the spectrum of marijuana use. So why is so much enforcement happening in communities of color?”

Chief Shea dodged the question. He said that in 2014, the city made a legal differentiation between ‘using marijuana’ and ‘burning marijuana.’ Since then, he said, 90% of arrests for marijuana are for ‘burning.’

That didn’t mollify Richards. “Communities of color are not the only ones ‘burning,’” he said.

Under Mayor de Blasio, 85% of the people arrested for cannabis offenses were people of color. Under Mayor Bloomberg, that figure was 84%. “If the administration is serious about changing the racial disparity of arrests,” said Richards, “we are not seeing that.”

Chief Shea defended the NYPD’s arrest statistics. “We are following specific complaints from the public, regarding marijuana burned in public view.” He added, “We are probably the most transparent we have ever been as a department, as an administration.”

This seemed hard for Council members to believe, because no data was presented by the department to corroborate their claims, despite repeated prior requests for said data to be presented before the hearing.

March 7, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Americans for Safe Access releases its latest analysis and report card on medical marijuana programs across United States

Asa_default_social_thumbnail2The advocacy group Americans for Safe Access regularly produces reports on the state of state medical marijuana laws, and this latest 2018 version of ASA's “Medical Marijuana Access in the United States: A Patient-Focused Analysis of the Patchwork of State Laws” now runs almost 200 pages.  I recommend the report in full for everyone interested in medical marijuana information, and here is part of the report's preface:

For over fifteen years, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) has engaged state and federal governments, courts, and regulators to improve the development and implementation of state medical cannabis laws and regulations.  This experience has taught us how to assess whether or not state laws meet the practical needs of patients. It has also provided us with the tools to advocate for programs that will better meet those needs. Passing a medical cannabis law is only the first step in a lengthy implementation process, and the level of forethought and advance input from patients can make the difference between a well-designed program and one that is seriously flawed.  One of the most important markers of a well-designed program is whether or not all patients who would benefit from medical cannabis will have safe and legal access to their medicine without fear of losing any of the civil rights and protections afforded to them as American citizens....

Today, we have a patchwork of medical cannabis laws across the United States.  Thirty states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico have adopted laws that created programs that allow at least some patients legal access to medical cannabis.  Most of those thirty states provide patients with protections from arrest and prosecution as well as incorporate a regulated production and distribution program.  Several programs also allow patients and their caregivers to cultivate a certain amount of medical cannabis themselves.  While it took a long time for states to recognize the importance of protecting patients from civil discrimination (employment, parental rights, education, access to health care, etc.), more and more laws now include these explicit protections.

However, as of 2017, none of the state laws adopted thus far can be considered ideal from a patient’s standpoint.  Only a minority of states currently include the entire range of protections and rights that should be afforded to patients under the law, with some lagging far behind others.  Because of these differences and deficiencies, patients have argued that the laws do not function equitably and are often poorly designed, implemented, or both.  As production and distribution models are implemented, hostile local governments have found ways to ban such activity, leaving thousands of patients without the access state law was intended to create. Minnesota, for example, despite setting up a regulatory system for the production, manufacturing, and distribution of cannabis oil extracts, prohibits qualified patients from using the actual plant.  These laws include sanctions for qualified patients who seek to use their medicine in whole plant form, unnecessarily eliminating clinically validated routes of administration used by hundreds of thousands of patients.  Some states have taken years to implement their medical cannabis laws leaving patients waiting years before their medicine is available. 

February 28, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Highlighting the perspectives of governors in dynamic marijuana reform times

News-8Rolling Stone has this lengthy new article on modern state marijuana reforms focused on how governors are reacting to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' latest policy directives to federal prosecutors.  The piece is  headlines "Sorry, Jeff Sessions – Governors Are Moving Ahead with Pot: At their annual meeting, pro-pot governors say the AG isn't stopping them from advancing plans for medical and recreational legalization." Here are excerpts:

Over the past few days, most of the nation's governors descended on Washington for their annual meeting with administration officials and the president. As the governors mingled about and chatted in between sessions, many of them were exchanging ideas and best practices on how to roll out a successful regulatory regime on marijuana. But hanging over their talks was the specter of Attorney General Jeff Sessions who would like to clamp down on the nation's burgeoning, though disparate, marijuana industry.

Some Democratic governors say they were denied a private meeting with Sessions to discuss his anti-marijuana stance. And besides attending the formal Governors' Ball on Sunday night, the attorney general only made one appearance to the group, at a White House briefing on opioids. Some say they're frustrated they couldn't pick his brain on his controversial move to rescind an Obama-era memo that directed the nation's top prosecutors to prioritize other offenses over marijuana in states where it's legal. "I tried, but I couldn't get called on," Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) tells Rolling Stone. "He only took about six questions. There were probably 40 governors in the room."

Even though there's fear that Sessions wants to go after legal marijuana business owners, many states are moving ahead with efforts to either launch a new medicinal marijuana industry, expand an existing one or to legalize weed for recreational purposes. And governors say so far Sessions' opposition hasn't had an impact on the ground. "It has not impacted us and we believe it will not, although that doesn't mean we're not paying attention," Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ) tells Rolling Stone.

Murphy, who was elected last year, campaigned aggressively on marijuana legalization. For him, it's a criminal-justice issue because his state has the largest racial disparity in its prison population of any state in the nation, and many of those convicts are serving terms for nonviolent drug offenses. While he's received some pushback from his legislature on his plan to legalize pot, he's moving ahead on expanding medicinal marijuana because currently there are only five dispensaries in a state with nine million people. "We're proceeding apace, again, beginning to make sure we get the medical piece right because it's life or death," Murphy says. "And then we will deliberately and steadily get to the recreational side."

The nation's other newly seated governor, Ralph Northam (D-VA), also campaigned on marijuana. He faces more headwinds from Republicans who control his state's House of Delegates, but he's still calling for marijuana decriminalization. As a physician, Northam is also vocal about the medicinal benefits of weed, though he says more research is needed. For that he's calling on Congress to reclassify pot, since it's currently listed as a Schedule I narcotic, making it extremely difficult to study in any official capacity. "I think that it would be great if at the federal level they could change the schedule of marijuana so that we can get more data on it – do more research," Northam tells Rolling Stone. "I remind people all the time that probably over 100 medicines that we use routinely in health care come from plants, so let's be a little bit more open minded and look at potential uses for medicinal marijuana."...

While the movement on medical marijuana is steadily picking up steam in red and blue states alike, the recreational effort is going more slowly but some governors say there's starting to be an air of certainty that eventually marijuana will be viewed as the same as alcohol in most every state.

Back in 2011, Gov. Dan Malloy (D-CT) moved to decriminalize marijuana and set up a medicinal marijuana regime. While he hasn't come down one way or another on recreational marijuana, he says it's just a matter of time before it happens in Connecticut because efforts to legalize weed are sweeping the entire northeast corridor. "As Canada moves in that direction, as Massachusetts and Vermont, it's going to be a neighborhood thing, and I understand that," Malloy tells Rolling Stone. While he remains lukewarm on recreational marijuana, he did pen a blunt letter to Sessions on it.

"I told him to stop messing around with marijuana, because it really isn't important," Malloy says. "I have not taken the opportunity to endorse marijuana, but that's very different than spending resources trying to combat marijuana use. And, quite frankly, if you're going to be serious about opioids, you can't be screwing around with marijuana."

While many governors are now rushing out new marijuana regulations, they're still keeping one eye on Jeff Sessions. Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) says during this visit he was rebuffed when he asked for a private meeting with the attorney general to discuss his state's recreational marijuana marketplace, but he says his offer for Sessions to come out west and tour his state's pot businesses still stands. "It's a shame that he has a closed mind, and he's much more attentive to his old ideology than to the new facts," Inslee tells Rolling Stone. "The fears that he might have had 30 years ago have not been realized, and we wish he would just open his eyes to the reality of the situation. If he did, I think he would no longer try to fight an old battle that the community and the nation is moving very rapidly forward on."

February 27, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

"How will cannabis legalization affect alcohol consumption?"

UntitledThe question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable new commentary authored by Beau Kilmer and Rosanna Smart.  Like many thoughtful commentaries in this arena, the authored highlight that a seemingly simple question does not have a simple answer.  Here are excerpts:

How will legalization affect alcohol consumption?  Will drinking go down because people substitute cannabis for alcohol, or will drinking go up because cannabis and alcohol complement each other?  These questions have important implications for the health consequences of legalization, and for tax revenues.  Unfortunately, we don’t have the answers, yet.

A 2015 RAND Corporation study about cannabis legalization for the state of Vermont concluded that the evidence was mixed about whether cannabis and alcohol were substitutes or complemented each other.  A 2016 University of Washington literature review about changing cannabis polices and alcohol use concluded the relationship was complex.

Much research has relied on evidence of how laws that increase access to medical cannabis affect alcohol use.  The findings are mixed, possibly because the studies examine different age groups, measures of alcohol consumption and time periods.  The alcohol-cannabis relationship may differ across population subgroups — teens may treat these substances differently than adults. Also, some studies consider only effects on whether people drink, but not effects on how often or how much they drink.

Different studies also examine different time periods, and the laws have been changing over time.  Early state laws (such as the medical cannabis legislation California passed in 1996) tend to allow broader qualifying patient conditions, legal home cultivation and less oversight of dispensaries.  Differences in policies may lead to different effects on cannabis use, and possibly alcohol use. And the laws’ impact may evolve over time as the market expands or as federal enforcement shifts.

A recent working paper out of the University of Connecticut and Georgia State University has received a fair bit of attention as the latest in this series of attempts to shed light on the issue of whether alcohol and cannabis are substitutes or complements based on evidence from medical cannabis laws.  The authors examined changes in alcohol sales at grocery and convenience stores and other outlets.  They found that cannabis and alcohol are strong substitutes, with medical cannabis implementation being associated with a 15 percent reduction in monthly alcohol sales.

That is a surprisingly large effect, equivalent to what we would predict if the price of alcohol increased on the order of 30 percent.  The effect seems especially large considering that during the study period of 2006 to 2015, the newer state medical cannabis programs that drive the main result were more restrictive and had low participation rates, typically involving less than 1 percent of the population.  Of course, these medical laws could have effects that reach beyond the registered patient population if they made it easier and cheaper for non-patients to access cannabis, or if the laws caused the public to change its attitudes about cannabis and alcohol use more broadly.  Much more needs to be learned about what’s driving the results in this working paper.

Even if a consensus developed about the effect of medical cannabis laws on alcohol use, it would be unwise to simply assume that the same relationship applies to legalizing cannabis sales and advertising for recreational purposes....

These questions about legalization and alcohol consumption will not be resolved anytime soon.  In the meantime, California’s policymakers are making decisions about whether to license stores and lounges, and if so, where and how many.  They would be wise to build flexibility into their regulatory systems and not lock into decisions they may regret as they gain more information.

February 13, 2018 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (2)

Could a high-profile lawsuit help end federal marijuana prohibition?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this New York Times article headlined "Lawsuit Takes Aim at Trump Administration Marijuana Policy." As detailed below, this lawsuit was covered on this blog when first filed, and this press article is prompted by an upcoming hearing.  Here is part of the report (followed by a bit of commentary at the end):

On Wednesday, yet another courtroom battle promises to pull the White House into the legal spotlight as crucial arguments are heard in New York in a sweeping lawsuit that is challenging the administration’s marijuana policy by seeking to legalize pot under federal law.

When the suit was filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan in July, it appeared to be an intriguing, if limited, effort to help its five named plaintiffs — among them, a former professional football player with a business selling pot-based pain relievers and a 12-year-old girl who treats her chronic epilepsy with medical marijuana.  But the case was thrust into national relevance last month when Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued an order encouraging prosecutors to aggressively enforce the federal marijuana law, endangering the viability of the multibillion-dollar weed industry in states where it is legal.

In its 98-page complaint, the suit presents its case for legalization not only through a host of constitutional arguments, but also by way of a world-historical tour of marijuana use — from its first purported role 10,000 years ago in the production of Taiwanese pottery to the smoking habits of President Barack Obama in his younger days. It points out that the ancient Egyptians used the drug to treat eye sores and hemorrhoids, and Thomas Jefferson puffed it for his migraines. James Madison credited “sweet hemp” for giving him “insight to create a new and democratic nation,” the suit notes.

The suit also includes archival material quoting John Ehrlichman, an adviser to President Richard Nixon, saying that the early efforts to criminalize pot were a way to disrupt the hippies and the black community after the 1960s. The contention is bolstered by an affidavit from Roger J. Stone, Jr., a pro-pot Nixon-era operative and adviser to Mr. Trump....

The current legal action is a somewhat rare attempt to use civil claims to legalize weed and has offered some novel arguments as to why its classification has violated the constitutional rights of those who filed the suit.

The former football player, Marvin Washington, for instance, is contending that the Controlled Substances Act has impeded his ability to transact business in states where pot is legal in contravention of the Constitution’s commerce clause.  The girl with epilepsy, Alexis Bortell, has argued that the law illegally restricts her right to travel with her medicine in states where pot is not allowed or to places controlled by the federal government — including on airplanes. A third plaintiff, the Cannabis Cultural Association, a nonprofit group created to assist minorities in the marijuana industry, has alleged the law has been used for years to discriminate against them.

“It’s the first time a young child who needs lifesaving medicine has stood up to the government to be able to use it,” said Joseph A. Bondy, one of the lawyers who brought the suit. “It’s the first time that a group of young millennials of color has stood up to the government and said the marijuana law is wrong and has destroyed their communities.”

The suit has made another claim based on what amounts to government hypocrisy: It asks why the government has classified pot as a pernicious substance, when in 2003 the Department of Health and Human Services obtained a patent on compounds in the drug to protect against brain damage and then in 2015 the surgeon general under President Obama declared in public that pot has medical benefits.

Against these claims, lawyers for the government have argued that Congress decided nearly 50 years ago that pot should be a Schedule 1 drug, and if the plaintiffs don’t agree, they should try to change the law.  Their suit, the lawyers wrote in one of their filings, “is the latest in a long list of cases asserting constitutional challenges to marijuana regulation under the C.S.A. Those challenges have been uniformly rejected by the federal courts.”

No matter how the lawsuit ends, the judge who is considering the case, Alvin K. Hellerstein, is clearly taking it seriously.  At a hearing in September, Judge Hellerstein said he would give the matter his “prioritized attention,” setting it ahead of all of his other cases.

The hearing on Wednesday, scheduled to entertain arguments to dismiss the case, is likely to be marked by a whiff of drama as marijuana activists from across the country are expected to descend on the courtroom.  Mr. Bondy said he is also trying to arrange a live-stream of the proceeding so that young Alexis, unable to travel to New York, can watch it from her home in Colorado.

I am pleased to see the New York Times giving significant attention to this litigation, but I find it troublesome how the headline of the article wrongly suggests that the lawsuit goes after the "Trump Administration Marijuana Policy" when in fact the suit is assailing Congress's failure to move marijuana off Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.  (Notably, the lawsuit discussed here was filed when the Trump Administration policies on marijuana were unchanged from Obama Administration policies.)

Similarly, this article is off base when asserting that AG Jeff Sessions "issued an order encouraging prosecutors to aggressively enforce the federal marijuana law."  The AG did issue an order rescinding the Cole Memo last month, but that merely took away novel limits on federal prosecutors and did not come with any orders for "aggressive" enforcement of federal prohibition.  (If AG Sessions had ordered federal prosecutors to aggressively enforce federal marijuana law, there would be hundred of indictments being filed in dozens of state with operational recreational and medical marijuana marketplaces.)

The full complaint as originally filed in Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al, be found here.

Prior related posts:

February 13, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Noticing that some politicians are finally noticing that marijuana reform could be winning political issue

Download (8)Long-time readers know I have often posted articles and commentaries suggesting that politicians would be wise to see the potential to attract younger and independent voters by showing interest in marijuana reform.  This new Politico article suggest some folks running for Congress are finally getting this message.   The full headline of the lengthy piece highlights its themes: "These Red-State Democrats Think Legal Marijuana Can Help Them Win: With sky-high approval rates, pot is an issue challengers say will cure the Democratic malaise in Trump country."  Here are excerpts that everyone interested in the politics of marijuana reform should read in full:

Not so long ago — like maybe last cycle — a Democratic challenger in a state this conservative wouldn’t have been caught dead making an unqualified endorsement of a drug federal authorities still consider as dangerous as heroin by categorizing it as Schedule 1.  But attitudes about marijuana, not to mention state laws, have changed so quickly and so broadly across the country that Democrats even in deeply red states like Indiana not only don’t fear talking about the issue, they think it might be a key in 2018 to toppling Republican incumbents.  The numbers, they say, are on their side, not the side of the politicians who either duck the subject or endorse Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ apparent desire to return federal marijuana policy back to the “Just Say No” days of the Reagan administration.

In a 2016 poll of Indiana residents, approval for medical marijuana was at 73 percent.  In a state struggling, like so many others, with a massive opioid crisis, there’s been no sign that support for legalizing marijuana has waned. A 2012 survey from the Bowen Center of Public Affairs showed that 78 percent of Hoosiers supported taxing marijuana like alcohol and cigarettes, far above the 55 percent who supported then-governor Mike Pence — a sign that support for marijuana law reform in Indiana is no statistical blip.  In fact, according to [congressional candidate Dan] Canon, it has only gotten stronger, and not just in blue bubbles like Bloomington but in rural and suburban communities, too. That’s why, in December, Canon released a web video ad declaring his stance clearly, “Here’s one simple solution that’s long overdue: We need to legalize medical marijuana nationwide.” He even got some international press out of it.

Subsequently, his chief primary opponent, law school professor Liz Watson, instead of criticizing Canon’s position, posted a detailed pro-medical marijuana position on her website to eliminate any daylight between her and Canon on this issue. “In Southern Indiana, we are battling a raging opioid epidemic.  The last thing we need is for the federal government to punish people for turning to non-addictive alternatives to opioids,” she told POLITICO Magazine.  “We also do not need the federal government restricting study into the medical uses of marijuana.  Federal law currently categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic, along with heroin, while oxycodone is Schedule 2. That makes no sense.” Watson’s stance nearly guarantees that no matter who survives the primary to face Trey Hollingsworth in the general, the Democrat in the race will be on the record as in favor of medical marijuana.

The candidates of Indiana’s 9th are not alone in their desire to use marijuana as a rallying flag. House races in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, plus Senate races in Texas and Nevada all feature Democratic candidates who have taken strong stands in favor of changing the federal marijuana laws, and running against Republican incumbents who have not.

“There’s nationwide support for recreational marijuana, and support for medical marijuana is even higher than that,” Al Cross, the director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, told POLITICO Magazine.  According to Cross, there’s not much difference in the support for marijuana legalization in rural Southern states than in the Western blue states more commonly associated with marijuana.  “For some voters, marijuana could be a defining issue. We just don’t know how many that’s going to be yet.”...

It won’t be known for some months yet whether legalization has the power to take out sitting Republicans, but there’s no question that it is potent enough to change the complexion of primary races, at least in districts that have large college populations.

Take a look at what’s happening across the Ohio River from the Indiana 9th, in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional district, which includes both the University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University.  The Democratic field to unseat the three-term Republican incumbent Andy Barr has developed into an interesting portrait of the current Democratic Party coalition: a black state senator, a female veteran, and a gay mayor.  State Senator Reggie Thomas, who represents a portion of Lexington in the Kentucky Senate, was first in the race to come out in favor of medical marijuana.  In a web video he states, “The evidence is clear. Medical marijuana helps those with chronic pain and other medical conditions.” In the same 60-second video, Thomas announced he was signing on as a co-sponsor of a medical marijuana bill in the state Senate.  Asked by POLITICO Magazine if there was a campaign strategy associated with his advocacy of medical marijuana in order to differentiate himself from his primary opponents, Thomas wouldn’t take the bait, saying only that, “it’s just the right thing to do.”...

There are few places where marijuana politics are more exciting than in West Virginia, thanks to state senator (and retired U.S. Army major) Richard Ojeda, who is currently a candidate for Congress in West Virginia’s 3rd with a position on medical marijuana that has given him strong statewide name recognition.  “Anyone with half a brain should know that marijuana should never be Schedule I,” Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine over the phone, sounding more like Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey than his own state’s Democratic senator, Joe Manchin.

Medical marijuana is as popular in West Virginia as Donald Trump. Nearly 68 percent of West Virginians voted for Trump in 2016, but after a year in office, the average of his 2017 approval rating according to the Gallup tracking poll has slid to 61 percent.  Conversely, West Virginia’s acceptance of medical marijuana has risen from 61 percent in early 2017 to 67 percent today, according to an Orion Strategies poll released last month.

Not merely an advocate for medical marijuana, Ojeda (pronounced oh-JEH-dah) criticizes the federal law that requires mandatory prison sentences for criminal marijuana cultivation: “One to five years? That’s garbage,” he told me. Instead, Ojeda, 47, believes that outlaw marijuana growers shouldn’t go to prison at all.  He thinks it should be a misdemeanor for a first offense, and that the harshest sentence for a repeat offender should be home confinement.  Those positions were once far outside the Democratic Party mainstream, but it’s difficult for Ojeda’s opponents to characterize him as a liberal who is soft on crime when he served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2016, Ojeda ran for a West Virginia state Senate seat against a longtime incumbent Democrat and won the primary by 2,000 votes.  In his opening act as a freshman legislator, Ojeda sponsored a medical marijuana bill and quarterbacked it through both chambers, making West Virginia the 29th state to legalize it.  This was a stunning turn of events, even for marijuana advocacy groups, who had spent no money to support Ojeda’s effort. “There wasn’t a single penny spent, and we won,” Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine.  “We did it because I got up and started speaking about it. And then the phone lines [in the legislature] lit up because the people of West Virginia know.”...

These red-state Democrats have found strong footing on a position to the left of their party’s leadership in Washington, D.C., and it seems to be working for them. None of them seem shaken by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent announcement he would end the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to prosecuting marijuana crimes in states that had legalized it. Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine: “I think we are on the verge of eventually voting in favor of marijuana [at the national level],”

February 6, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Another good review of growing movement to eliminate past convictions with modern marijuana reforms

Legal Marijuana Oregon Measure 91This Washington Post piece, headlined "Cities, states work to clear marijuana convictions, calling it a states' rights issue," provides another useful account of the ever-growing movement to undue past marijuana convictions in conjunction with modern marijuana reforms. Here are excerpts:

When California voters passed a measure in 2016 that legalized cannabis and allowed for people to have their marijuana convictions wiped away or reduced, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan ordered her staff to immediately start scouring the city’s criminal records to find people who qualified.

As marijuana becomes legal in more states, some are allowing people to ask to have their old marijuana convictions expunged or reduced. It is, proponents say, a way to atone a war on drugs that disproportionately affected low-income and minority communities and to ensure that the criminal records people carry are not out of sync with current laws.

It also attempts to get to the root of a complex legal question: what happens when people have a conviction on their record for a crime that is no longer illegal? “If you’ve made a legislative determination that this is no longer criminal, why would you want to continue to have people feeling the ramifications of something that people going forward will no longer have to suffer?” said Jenny Roberts, an American University law professor.

At least nine states, including Colorado, Maryland and Oregon, have made it easier to have some marijuana charges sealed or thrown out completely. Recreational marijuana use is legal in some, but not all, of those states. Colorado last year approved a bill that allows people convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession before Dec. 10, 2012, to petition to have their convictions sealed.

In Oregon, lawmakers stated that judges must take the current law -- which says that possessing and selling marijuana is legal -- into account when they consider whether or not to change a person’s criminal record. In Maryland, people convicted of marijuana possession can petition a court for expungment. “It really makes sense to not burden these people with a lifelong criminal record,” said Kate Bell, a lobbyist for the Marijuana Policy Project in Maryland.

In most places, people must specifically request to have their records expunged, a process that can be costly and time-consuming. Though the laws largely aimed to help low-income people, there is concern that the petitioning process makes it more difficult, and therefore less likely, that they will move to have their records changed.

On Wednesday, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced that his office will clear all marijuana misdemeanor convictions dating to 1975 and review all felony convictions to see if they are eligible for a reduction. “California voters have clearly sent a message,” he said. “The war on drugs has been a failure, and more specifically, the war on marijuana has been a failure.“...

Gascón said he made the decision to automatically clear records so people “will not have to jump through hoops to get relief.” He estimates that about 3,000 people will be eligible to have their convictions vacated and about 5,000 will be eligible to have their cases reviewed for possible reduction. Prosecutors can decide not to support a reduction should a person have a major felony, such as murder, on their record. Old convictions will be reclassified under the law as it reads now. For example, if someone had been convicted of possessing an ounce or less of marijuana, that conviction would be tossed out because that is now legal under California law.

California Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced a bill that would require automatic expungment of records. “The role of government should be to ease burdens and expedite the operation of law — not create unneeded obstacles, barriers and delay,” Bonta said in a statement. “These individuals are legally entitled to expungement or reduction and a fresh start. It should be implemented without unnecessary delay or burden.”

Nevada assemblyman William McCurdy (D) introduced a bill that would allow people convicted of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana to have their records wiped clean; it was vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval (R). McCurdy said he would like to reintroduce the legislation in the state, where marijuana is now legal. “I’ve always been under the belief that if you made a mistake in the past and the law has changed, you should definitely benefit from the changing of that law,” he said. “There’s a lot of folks who are sitting behind bars for less than an ounce of marijuana, and that’s troubling.”

In San Diego, Stephan ordered attorneys to look at cases shortly after voters passed the ballot initiative in November 2016, when the expungement provisions took effect. Prosecutors first looked at people in prison, then at those who were recently convicted, recommending their cases to public defenders. They worked “backward, with the idea that persons that received their convictions more recently might be directly impacted in terms of their ability to look for jobs or have informal probation, housing benefits, military, other things,” she said.

About 680 people have had their convictions lessened, 55 of whom are currently behind bars, Stephan said. She believes there are about 5,000 people who are eligible to have their convictions changed. “Our hope is that they will take advantage of it and use it to reintegrate and enter society without the burden of having a felony conviction,” she said.

Most of the sentencing laws are tied to the legalization of marijuana, something that Kevin Sabet, the founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes legalization, said shouldn’t be the case. “People deserve a second chance, and we shouldn’t penalize people for past convictions, but it shouldn’t take having to legalize -- and commercialize -- marijuana for that to happen,” he said. “This a false choice between legalization and criminalization.“

Some prior related posts:

February 3, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Two notably rosy new account of the state of marijuana reform circa 2018

180130115042-medical-marijuana-map-780x439Today I have seen two notable new articles making much of where marijuana reform stands as of January 2018.  CNN Money has this new article headlined "The U.S. legal marijuana industry is booming."  It starts this way:

It's 2018 and marijuana remains illegal in the United States.  But continued federal prohibition hasn't stopped the marijuana industry from growing like a very profitable weed.

Despite what could be considered an unfriendly administration in Washington D.C., nine states and the District of Columbia now allow for recreational marijuana use and 30 allow for medical use.  And more states are lining up to join the legalization wave.  Pot has become big business in the U.S.

The emerging industry took in nearly $9 billion in sales in 2017, according to Tom Adams, managing director of BDS Analytics, which tracks the cannabis industry.  Sales are equivalent to the entire snack bar industry, or to annual revenue from Pampers diapers.

That was before California opened its massive retail market in January.  The addition of the Golden State is huge for the industry and Adams estimates that national marijuana sales will rise to $11 billion in 2018, and to $21 billion in 2021.

The industry has also been creating jobs and opportunities.  There are 9,397 active licenses for marijuana businesses in the U.S., according to Ed Keating, chief data officer for Cannabiz Media, which tracks marijuana licenses.  This includes cultivators, manufacturers, retailers, dispensaries, distributors, deliverers and test labs.

More than 100,000 people are working around the cannabis plant and that number's going to grow, according to BDS Analytics.  The industry employed 121,000 people in 2017.  If marijuana continues its growth trajectory, the number of workers in that field could reach 292,000 by 2021, according to BDS Analytics.

And German Lopez at Vox has this new piece headlined "January was the biggest month yet for marijuana legalization, despite Trump’s new war on pot."  Here is how it starts:

January 2018 was the most important month yet for marijuana legalization.

Things looked rocky a few days into the month, when President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, rescinded an Obama-era memo that protected states that had legalized marijuana from federal interference.  Because cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, the federal government can still crack down on pot even in states where it’s legal under state law for recreational purposes.

But the announcement came and went with little sign that the Justice Department will actually do much in its new war on marijuana.  The agency was unclear when reporters asked if the move will actually lead to more anti-marijuana prosecutions.  And in the aftermath, federal prosecutors across the country released statements that were either vague or indicated that they won’t lead to a new wave of anti-marijuana crackdowns in places where pot is legal under state law.

Meanwhile, California at the beginning of the month opened the world’s biggest legal market for recreational marijuana — following voters’ decision in 2016 to legalize pot for recreational purposes and allow sales of the drug.

Then, after Sessions announced his new marijuana policy, Vermont legislators, with the support of Republican Gov. Phil Scott, legalized marijuana for recreational use. The law won’t allow sales — only possession and growing.  But it’s a big move because Vermont is now the first state to have legalized marijuana through its legislature.

All of this adds up to a huge month for marijuana legalization.  If even a federal threat over marijuana legalization didn’t stop Vermont’s legalization momentum or slow down California’s massive new legal pot market, what, if anything, will stop more states from going down the same path?

January 31, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 29, 2018

"Marijuana: is it time to stop using a word with racist roots?"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Guardian commentary authored by Alex Halperin.  Here are excerpts:

It’s been known as dope, grass, herb, gage, tea, reefer, chronic. B ut the most familiar name for the dried buds of the cannabis plant, and one of the few older terms still in use today, is “marijuana”.

For the prohibitionists of nearly a century ago, the exotic-sounding word emphasized the drug’s foreignness to white Americans and appealed to the xenophobia of the time. As with other racist memes, a common refrain was that marijuana would lead to miscegenation.

Harry Anslinger, the bureaucrat who led the prohibition effort, is credited as saying back then: “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”

Today “cannabis” and “marijuana” are terms used more or less interchangeably in the industry, but a vocal contingent prefers the less historically fraught “cannabis”.  At a time of intense interest in past injustices, some say “marijuana” is a racist word that should fall out of use....

The word “marijuana” comes from Mexico, but its exact origins remain unknown.  According to the book Cannabis: A History by Martin Booth, it may derive from an Aztec language or soldiers’ slang for “brothel” – Maria y Juana....

As with other symbols of past oppression, from the pink triangle to the n-word, there’s a powerful tradition of marginalized communities redeploying symbols of their oppression.  It’s these communities – not businesses – who have the moral authority to decide if marijuana is a racist word which should be avoided or an important reminder of a more racist past.

January 29, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 26, 2018

Lamenting "marijuana apartheid" amidst modern marijuana reform movement

Bosnia-a-scuola-di-apartheidThe title of this post picks up on a provocative phrase in this provocative new commentary at The Intercept authored by Shaun King.  The piece is headlined ""Despite Liberalizing Marijuana Laws, the War on Drugs Still Targets People of Color, " and here are excerpts:

[New York] city’s leaders have openly bragged about the decriminalization of marijuana, but arrests for simple possession actually went up by 9 percent from 2015 to 2016, with 18,136 people arrested.  In a 2016 interview, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “We stopped the arrest for low-level marijuana possession.” But that’s simply not true: 96 percent of those arrested in New York were busted for low-level possession. Over 50 people a day are still being arrested for it in New York City alone.

Most of those arrests, predictably, are happening in communities of color. The new numbers for New York City’s 2017 marijuana arrests just came out and they hardly budged — arrests declined by about 1 percent, disappointing many advocates and attorneys who took the mayor’s word on this issue.

Democrats dominate in New York. In addition to its liberal mayor, 47 of 51 city council members are Democrats. New York can’t blame arresting 50 people a day for low-level marijuana possession on Sessions or Trump. Neither can most of America’s largest cities — where a huge percentage of these arrests go down — and where Democrats have ruled for decades. This disparity extends to places that have legalized weed — and not just medical marijuana. As far as arrests go, the legalization wave has mainly helped white people....

Then there is the economic justice side of things. Millions of African-Americans have gone to jail for marijuana possession and distribution; hundreds of thousands remain in jail at this very moment. And while African-Americans continue to pay an enormous price for marijuana prohibition, a legal weed economy is exploding. In California, the weed economy is worth about $7 billion, and it’s going to grow exponentially.

Who do you think owns these businesses? That’s right: The weed industry is dominated by white ownership. I recently picked up a magazine that was all about the marijuana industry. Not a single black or Latino face was in the entire magazine. That people of color are largely shut out of the legal cannabis industry, after paying the heaviest price for it, is the definition of white privilege.

We’ve seen this sort of exploitation many times. We celebrate, as we should, Jackie Robinson entering Major League Baseball. But when MLB “integrated,” it only integrated the teams, not the front offices or ownership groups. The integration of baseball then meant the destruction of the Negro League and every black-owned franchise that came with it. Generations later, not a single team in baseball is black-owned. The same is true for basketball. Even the Harlem Globetrotters is owned by white people.

What we have right now is a type of marijuana apartheid, a de facto policy of segregation on this issue, in which one lived reality exists for white America on weed and a completely different, more punitive and costly reality exists for African-Americans. Of course it’s unfair, but it damn sure is as American as apple pie. Even if we’ve already passed the bygone golden years of bipartisan cooperation on criminal justice reform, it’s time for Democrats to lead on this issue. But judging by the fact that Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., has just one single co-sponsor for his progressive legislation on the matter, it doesn’t look like Democrats have a real plan here. Do they ever?

January 26, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Drug Policy Alliance releases big new report: "From Prohibition to Progress: A Status Report on Marijuana Legalization"

Status-report-coverThe reform advocacy organization Drug Policy Alliance has released today this big new data-dense report headlined "From Prohibition to Progress: A Status Report on Marijuana Legalization; What We Know About Marijuana Legalization in Eight States and Washington, D.C." I am likely going to do a series of posts about this report and its details particulars, but I will begin here by just quoting the first part of its executive summary:

On November 6, 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two states – and first two jurisdictions in the world – to legalize marijuana for adult use.  Two years later Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. followed suit.  In 2016 voters in four additional states – California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada – also approved ballot measures legalizing marijuana.  In January 2018, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a state legislature.  More states are expected to legalize marijuana in the near future.

Evidence shows that marijuana legalization is working so far.  States are saving money and protecting the public by comprehensively regulating marijuana for adult use. This success has likely contributed to the historically high levels of public support for marijuana legalization in the U.S., which has steadily grown to an all-time high of 64 percent.  The majority of Americans, across party affiliations, support legalizing marijuana, with 51 percent of Republicans now in favor.

Arrests and court filings for the possession, cultivation and distribution of marijuana have plummeted since voters legalized marijuana for adult use in eight states and Washington, D.C.  These states have saved millions of dollars and prevented the criminalization of thousands of people. Marijuana legalization has a positive effect on public health and safety.  Nationally, and in states that have legalized marijuana, youth marijuana use has remained stable or declined.  Legal access to marijuana is associated with reductions in some of the most troubling harms associated with opioid use, including opioid overdose deaths and untreated opioid use disorders.  DUI arrests for driving under the influence, of alcohol and other drugs, have declined in Colorado and Washington, the first two states to establish legally regulated adult use marijuana markets.  In addition, crash rates in both states have remained similar to those in comparable states that have not legalized marijuana.

At the same time, states are filling their coffers with hundreds of millions of dollars in marijuana tax revenues.  These revenues are being allocated for social good – to fund education, school construction, early literacy, bullying prevention, behavioral health, and alcohol and drug treatment.  In addition, the legal marijuana industry is creating jobs; it currently employs approximately 200,000 full and part-time workers across the country.

January 23, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 22, 2018

Vermont now officially the ninth US state to legalize marijuana ... and the first to do so through traditional legislation

VermontAs reported in this AP piece, headlined "Vermont governor signs pot bill with 'mixed emotions'," a small state finalized some big marijuana reform news this afternoon. Here are the details:

Gov. Phil Scott on Monday privately signed Vermont's marijuana bill into law, making the state the first in the country to authorize the recreational use of the substance by an act of a state legislature. The law, which goes into effect July 1, allows adults to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, two mature and four immature plants.

Vermont will become the ninth state in the country, along with Washington, D.C, to approve the recreational use of marijuana. The other states and Washington authorized the recreational use of marijuana through a vote of residents. Vermont law contains no mechanism that allows for a citizen referendum.

The Republican governor had until the end of the day Monday to sign the bill. His office issued a statement Monday afternoon saying he had signed the bill. "Today, with mixed emotions, I have signed" the bill he said. "I personally believe that what adults do behind closed doors and on private property is their choice, so long as it does not negatively impact the health and safety of others, especially children."

The law contains no mechanism for the taxation or sale of marijuana, although the Legislature is expected to develop such a system.

Vermont's move is an incremental reform that will have little impact for most people in the state, said Matt Simon, New England political director for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. "I think the vast majority of Vermonters won't notice any change at all," Simon said. "It's simply eliminating a fine and eliminating a penalty for growing a small number of plants."

The new law is unlikely to prompt people who don't now smoke marijuana to take it up, said Robert Sand, a Vermont law school professor and former county prosecutor who has advocated for years to change the state's drug laws. "Realistically anyone who wanted to try it has tried it," Sand said....

The Vermont Legislature passed a similar proposal last spring, but Scott vetoed it, citing practical concerns. Lawmakers revised the proposal to do more to protect children and enhance highway safety. The revised bill passed both chambers this month.

Recreational use of marijuana already has passed in Maine and Massachusetts, and both states are awaiting the implementation of systems to tax and regulate marijuana. New Hampshire's House gave preliminary approval to a bill earlier this month that would allow adults to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and to cultivate it in limited quantities, even though a commission studying the issue won't finish its work until next fall.

Scott said last week he was declining to hold a bill signing ceremony because "some people don't feel that this is a momentous occasion."

January 22, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)